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About willoyd

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    cycling, running, family history
  1. Fab book - on my favourites list. Agree with all lunababymoonchild's comments. Recommend the film too - Thompson and Hopkins are excellent in their roles. FWIW, it's actually 'Howards End' - there is no apostrophe.
  2. Ratings are on a scale of 1-6, 1=Ugh! 2=Disappointing, 3=OK, 4=Good, 5=Excellent, 6=On my favourites list (currently standing at 126 books and series: 78 adult fiction, 40 non-fiction and 8 children's fiction). G = book group read (I belong to two); R = reread January 01. The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden ***** 02. All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (G) ***** 03. Charles I, An Abbreviated Life by Mark Kishlansky **** February 04. Life Without Diabetes by Roy Taylor *** 05. Maigret in New York by Georges Simenon *** March 06. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (G) ***** 07. Emma by Jane Austen (R) ******
  3. Can only agree with pretty much everything you say, although I didn't find the first coda weak, and am interested why you did. I was initially put off by the unpunctuated style, but realised quickly that it worked really well - as you say, almost verse-like, and certainly providing the punctuation required to add to both meaning and understanding. For me, the second coda was fine, but felt it to be a bit of a literarily convenient coincidence, even if it still just about worked. Overally, though, I found this one of the most vibrant and engaging books I've read in a while. I picked it up to browse simply out of curiosity after its Booker win, and couldn't put it down - I'm not buying much fiction (using library mainly nowadays), but this was a must. Didn't regret it for one second, and definitely on the shortlist for my favourite novel, maybe even book, of the year; 6/6.
  4. My book group had this as our book for this month's meeting. Generally, it was very much enjoyed with some minor caveats (mostly from me!). Catherine Bailey's depth of research is probably the most impressive aspect of the book (as it is for her other tome, The Secret Rooms), and she uses this to full effect. In fact, this was thought to be both strength and weakness, as it appeared she could not resist including as much of that research as possible, extending the coverage of her book well beyond the scope of its claimed aims. This isn't just a book about "the rise and fall of an aristocratic family" (although 'decline and fall' would have been a better description, as the rise happens well before the period Bailey covers), but a deep dive into the social history of the area, including digressions into national coal mining history and national politics. Some of this was valuable as background, but, frankly, it at times felt rather self-indulgent, and would have benefited from some fairly strong-minded editing. However, by way of compensation, it was always interesting, and the author's writing is very readable, so it wasn't overly hard work travelling down these diversions. One interesting point that came up in discussion (well it was interesting to me!), was that Catherine Bailey was originally a TV producer, which, as one member said, meant that she was used to dealing with pictures and images. This was reflected in the structure of her writing: pretty much every chapter started off with a detailed picture being word painted. Mostly, this added colour, but at times, for one or two members, it proved mildly irritating - imagination appearing to take over from history. But, given this background, it certainly made it clearer why this route was chosen, and made it easier to take on board! Overall, this was felt to be a fascinating slice of social history, telling a nationally relevant story through the life and times of one of the most extraordinary, if widely unknown, buildings in the country and the family who owned it. A tighter focus might have made it even better, but still a very worthwhile read.
  5. HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian *****(*) The third volume of the Aubrey-Maturin series, and one in which O'Brian really starts to hit his stride. An extended introductory section, with Aubrey on blockade duty in the Mediterranean with the Lively, and Maturin on an intelligence mission, leads to a daring escapade and a brief sojourn in England before proceeding with the main meat of the novel, the cruise of HMS Surprise into the Indian Ocean. Once again, it is O'Brian's characters that dominate the story. It's an interesting approach that the author takes: whilst we are often privy to the inner thoughts of Stephen Maturin, particularly those expressed in his private diary, we are generally only able to observe Jack Aubrey from the outside. Both are complex characters (Maturin in particular), very different as friends often are, but fiercely attached to each other, even though they are more than aware of each other's faults - the mark of true friendship? Other characters are also starting to develop: they may not appear in every scene, indeed in every novel, but a web is clearly being spun. Some reviewers find the stories a bit slow paced, with not enough action. True perhaps, if that is what you regard as the most important element, but compared to the likes of Forester, Kent, Pope et al (and I never really got into the latter two, although loved the first), there is so much more to these novels than mere action. Having said that, HMS Surprise isn't exactly short of it, even if it's not always broadside to broadside, and the increased tempo and stronger focus of the narrative are key reasons behind why this makes for a much more satisfyingly complete book on its own than Post Captain. And when the action does take off, it does so with a vengeance, leaving the others bobbling, nay floundering, around in his wake. O'Brian certainly has me on the edge of my seat, be it storm or conflict (later edit: I can only agree with Ting - the storm is spine tingling in its intensity). This is definitely a series that needs to be read in order, and whilst no book has yet gained an outright 6 stars, the series as a whole most certainly has. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that, taken as a whole, it's now amongst my top half dozen 'novels', and I'm having to restrain myself from plunging straight into the fourth volume: I really do need to read something else now!
  6. Post Captain ***** The second volume in the Aubrey/Maturin series. The more I read, the more I wonder why on earth I let my reading of this series drift off course. This volume focuses primarily on the development of his two central characters, their relationship, and their relationships, the latter becoming rather fraught as romantic liaisons and financial challenges contribute to a heady mix. It was already clear that Aubrey is much more at home at sea, the phrase 'a fish out of water' never being more apposite when on land, whilst Maturin's much more considered, double life starts to play an increasingly prominent part, as do his landlubberly eccentricities! The plot itself can be split into three phrases: a sojourn ashore, in England and France, which establishes a whole new set of relationships and circumstances for the two men; a stint aboard the ungainly Polychrest, an abomination of a construction, and the final section on the distinctly more seaworthy Lively. O'Brian's writing is sublime, drawing the reader inexorably in. There are some superb sequences, one particular action on the Polychrest being ferociously exciting, edge of the seat reading, and the book reaches a satisfying climax. However, taken as a whole, the plot has more a feel of transition and long term establishment than a stand-alone story; it was also, for me, a bit slow to get underway - so early in the sequence I didn't want to spend so long ashore (later edit: looks to me as Ting might agree?). So, whilst increasingly engrossing and unputdownable (not a book to be read whilst commuting, which I found myself doing at one stage!), I would definitely not want to read this out of sequence, and there's a distinct feeling that most strands are to be continued, if not resolved. I suspect from what I've read from reviews of the series, that this will apply at various other stages of the sequence as well, but it does mean that in itself , Post Captain doesn't quite reach the heights of an individual favourite. The series already is, but as a stand-alone book, this has to lose a star. But what a start to a story - I can't wait for the rest, and am actually delighted that there is so much to go at (eighteen more volumes!). PS I've just acquired Anthony Gary Brown's The Patrick O'Brian Muster Book. It requires a certain amount of care using it, as there are spoilers in individual entries, but it's a superb reference, including all the characters, ships and locations in the series, and particularly strong on the history behind the fiction. Makes an excellent partner to the two Dean King volumes I already have (Sea of Words, Harbors and High Seas). i suppose I'm a lost cause already!
  7. Master and Commander ***** I started reading Patrick O'Brians famous Aubrey/Maturin series of books, set in the naval world of the early nineteenth century, some years ago. I'm not very good at sustaining a series though, and after the first four, all of which I rated highly, it petered out - goodness knows why. The new year seemed a good time to pick this sequence up again. Given the gap, I decided to start from the beginning (a very good place to start!). Master and Commander has the same title as the Russell Crowe film, but that was primarily based on the tenth book, The Far Side of the World (as it was subtitled), and there is little other than the odd, minor episode translated from this book to the film. The film was, I thought, good, very good. Indeed, it is one of my favourite half dozen films (and I'm not even a particular fan of Russell Crowe). The book, however, is far, far better! In Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, the friendship between whom is the linchpin of the book and the series, O'Brian has created, in my opinion, two of the great characters of twentieth-century literature, as well as one of the most interesting relationships: Aubrey, a big man, inclined to overweight, bluff, inclined almost to boorishness on occasions, quick-tempered, music lover, riven with insecurity in relationships, yet so confident in his role as a naval officer, almost childlike when it comes to women; Maturin, small, lean, intellectually curious, full of human insight except where his own life is concerned, secretive....I could go on with both, they are so well developed. Together they make a formidable literary team. O'Brian not only has some wonderful characters (it's not just Aubrey and Maturin who come so alive for me), but an ability to tell a great story. He makes no bones about the fact that much of what he includes is founded on historical fact. Indeed, the role played by Aubrey is based strongly on the real-life personage of Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, a famous naval figure of the Napoleonic Wars (and later). Many of the episodes in Master and Commander are lifted straight from reality: the fictional HMS Sophie is the alter-ego for the historical HMS Speedy, for the Cacafuego read El Gamo, whilst the descriptions of the climatic actions of the last fifty pages or so, even if seen through Aubrey's eyes (who was in the same position as Cochrane was at the time), could almost be an historical recount. The book is equally littered with real historical characters, right down to the captains of the various ships (and the master of HMS Speedy was also a Mr Marshall - surely no coincidence given O'Brian's attention to detail). But, there is no doubt that this is a work of fiction, and that O'Brian is more than capable of weaving his own highly intricate web. There are one or two issues that readers have faced on encountering this series. In particular one of the first things the reader notes is that O'Brian doesn't take any prisoners on the technical front. His language is full of the naval jargon of the time, and a fighting sailing ship involves a huge amount of it! Many readers have complained about this, frustrated at being unable to tell stays from shrouds, royals from topgallants! Equally, O'Brian so gets into the early nineteenth century mind, that some readers have found it hard to follow the whys and wherefores of what is happening. Well, that is certainly one way of looking at this book. Another way is to recognise the richness of what O'Brian is doing, immersing the reader as much as possible in the lives of the characters. In fact, when I first read Master and Commander, I had little comprehension myself of what the jargon meant. However, if you just let it flow over you for the moment, O'Brian usually finds a way to explain it. Thus, early on in the book, Maturin, a landlubber himself, is taken up the mast of the Sophie, and has the masts and rigging explained by one of the seaman. Stays? Shrouds? No problem now! And if you don't understand completely, and want to (I actually enjoyed several books without fully understanding all the technical words by any means), there are some brilliant companion volumes available (I found myself relying mainly on Dean King's), which in themselves make for fascinating browsing. Whilst one needs them less and less, they become more and more interesting! This all might seem hard work, and I suppose it might be if, as one Amazon reviewer commented, one believes that books should stand on their own and life is too short for it to be otherwise. But what O'Brian has done with this book (and later ones) is go beyond that, to something that attempts to take the reader beyond the confines of the book, into a world that is vividly real. It's a bit like watching a large screen HD television for the first time, after being used to a standard one for years. I'm already looking forward to the next exciting episode!!
  8. Sorry, first day contributing after a while away and then a while lurking, but actually subscribed to the board for some years. I used to be active a few years ago, but it seems that the vast majority of my posts from the past have disappeared. My apologies if I was being cheeky. On rereading, I can see why you feel that. It was meant to be a positive comment, with a suggestion bolted to the end to help others coming to this fresh, but there was rather more suggestion than positive. A late night lack of concentration is the only excuse I can offer. Sorry Ting, and thank you for taking it so well. Perhaps the review below might be a bit more helpful.
  9. I thoroughly enjoyed your review of Master and Commander, but am really glad, relieved in fact, that I came across it after finishing the book, as there are so many spoilers in it, that my enjoyment of the book would have been severely impaired if I'd come across it any earlier. As it stands, I will have to avoid your later posts until after reading the respective books, but will look forward to reading them then. Maybe a spoiler alert at the start would be helpful for others? On the nationality/origin of Stephen Maturin. I'm fairly sure that O'Brian is being deliberately obscure. The Irish roots are obvious, but there are strong implications that he has Spanish, probably Catalan connections too. However, O'Brian already appears to want to encourage the reader to work things out rather than saying so straightforwardly; there are several such instances in M&C alone.
  10. January 01. The Woman Who Dived into the Heart of the World - Sabine Berman (Jan 7) G *** 02. Just One Damned Thing After Another - Jodi Taylor (Jan 10) **** 03. Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian (Jan 17) R ***** CR. Waterloo - Tim Clayton CR. Post Captain - Patrick O'Brian Ratings * Disliked this, rarely finished. ** Disappointing, may be unfinished. *** OK, but not unputdownable. **** A good, involving read, hard to put down. ***** Excellent, outstanding. ****** An all-time favourite. CR= current reading, U=unfinished, A=audiobook, R=reread, G=Reading group read
  11. The implication in the article is that later Kindles use back lighting, and are thus likely to cause sleep problems. The fact is that they don't use back lighting: the lighting is in front of the screen, and is thus reflected off the screen to the eyes, just like light from the original Kindles and paper books. There are e-readers that use back lighting, but the Kindle is not one of them, and will thus, shouldn't affect sleep in the way described. When you dig into the paper itself, the actual reading devices used were: iPad iPad2 iPod Touch iPhone Kindle Kindle Fire Nook Color paper book Of these, the Kindle and book were listed as non-light emitters. So, what is actually being tested here, aside from the Kindle and the book, are not lit e-ink readers, like the Kindle Paperwhite, but a range of devices all relying on backlit LCD displays, only one of which is advertised as an e-reader (the Nook Color) A very different proposition to that described in the article. In addition, I understand (but haven't been able to access the meat of the article) that the sample size tested was 12; a bit low (understatement)! All in all, this cannot be described as conclusive. Nor can the article be described as accurate reporting! I used to have a Kindle 3 (keyboard), and changed to a Paperwhite last year, mainly because I wanted the lit screen (bedside light disturbing sleeping partner!). I'm really pleased - the Paperwhite is a much easier read: lighter, easier to handle, greater range of fonts (the serifed fonts are far better than those on the 3), all round better experience. As a result, as much as I adore paper books (and have a collection to prove it!), I find myself reading my Kindle more and more.
  12. I use LibraryThing quite a lot, mainly to keep a catalogue of my books; I also take part in one or two specialist discussion groups. Otherwise, my main reading record is a spreadsheet.
  13. I have absolutely no desire to see an English assembly - simply more of the same, just under an English rather than a UK banner, keeping power centralised and in the hands of the same old, discredited crew. What the Scots highlighted is the need for devolution - English regional assemblies with real teeth, and power moving away from the centre.
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